Tag Archives: french literature

‘L’Albatros’ by Charles Baudelaire

Souvent, pour s’amuser, les hommes d’équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Qui suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les gouffres amers.

À peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ces rois de l’azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d’eux.

Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu’il est comique et laid!
L’un agace son bec avec un brûle-gueule,
L’autre mime, en boitant, l’infirme qui volait!

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l’archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.

Continue reading ‘L’Albatros’ by Charles Baudelaire

‘The Swan’ by Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

I am so sad that my German is non-existent, apart from the odd greeting or pleasantry. I would so love to be able to read and understand this poem in its original language, but for now Bly’s superb translation will have to do. Continue reading ‘The Swan’ by Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

‘Chanson d’automne’ (‘Autumn Song’) by Paul Verlaine

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.


Here is my translation of this autumnal poem by Verlaine:

The long sobs
Of violins
Of autumn
Wound my heart
With a monotonous

All suffocating
And pale, when
The hour chimes,
I remember
The old days
And I weep.

And I go off
In the cold wind
Which carries me
Hither, thither,
As a
Dead leaf.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

‘Il faut, voyez vous, nous pardonner les choses’ by Paul Verlaine

0Il faut, voyez-vous, nous pardonner les choses :
De cette façon nous serons bien heureuses
Et si notre vie a des instants moroses,
Du moins nous serons, n’est-ce pas, deux pleureuses.

O que nous mêlions, âmes soeurs que nous sommes,
A nos voeux confus la douceur puérile
De cheminer loin des femmes et des hommes,
Dans le frais oubli de ce qui nous exile !

Soyons deux enfants, soyons deux jeunes filles
Eprises de rien et de tout étonnées
Qui s’en vont pâlir sous les chastes charmilles
Sans même savoir qu’elles sont pardonnées.

My Translation

You see, we must be forgiven things:
That way, we will find happiness,
And if our life has moments of sadness,
At least we shall weep together.

Oh, if only our sister-souls could blend
Our confused desires with childish tenderness,
And wander on, far from men and women,
In the cool forgetfulness of that which has exiled us.

Let us be children, let us be two little girls,
Who are enamoured by nothing and amazed by all,
Who grow pale in their chaste bowers,
Without even knowing they have been forgiven.

I have been very taken with Verlaine’s poetry since my late teens. I think it is the melancholy of it, a certain lightness and delicate quality to this poet’s voice that  really attracts and continues to fascinate me.

The first line of this poem (in French) is so beautiful. I love the ruffling sound of the repetition of the ‘f’ in “faut” and the ‘v’s in “voyez-vous”. I think that Verlaine was extremely masterful in the way he used alliteration and sibilance in this poem, particularly in the first stanza.

This poem is often described as Verlaine’s request for forgiveness from his wife, Mathilde. He had good reason to beg her forgiveness, because it was no secret that he was in love and having an affair with fellow poet, Arthur Rimbaud. However, for me personally, this poem seems rather to describe his love for Rimbaud, and his wish that society were different and that he could fulfil his love freely. For me, in this poem Verlaine is wishing that he could be forgiven (yes, by his wife, and also by the rest of society). He wishes that he could be forgiven for loving the wrong person because then he could find happiness. Happiness is being with one’s ‘sister-soul’ or ‘soul-mate’, because even during the sad times, at least one is not alone.

The second stanza particularly makes me think of Verlaine’s relationship with Rimbaud because he talks about ‘confused desires’, wishing that they could be as innocent as children. It was only natural that Verlaine’s feelings for Rimbaud were “confused”, since he was married, and also because he was living at a time when homosexuality was illegal and considered a moral evil. He expresses a desire to leave behind ‘men and women’ (the prison of gender) and to live free from that which has exiled him.

In the final stanza, I find it a very touching sentiment as Verlaine expresses his longing for the innocence of childhood. This image of the little girls in their bower, not even knowing that they have been forgiven, is so beautiful. This was a difficult poem to translate but the act of translating it made me realise certain aspects that  I had not clearly registered before.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh